Mickael Gelabale waited nearly five years to get back to the NBA. Now he has 10 days to prove he deserves to stay.
After finally getting clearance from basketball's international federation, the Wolves signed the 29-year-old European swingman to a 10-day contract. The team also took advantage of the league-issued injury exception to sign center Chris Johnson to a 10-day deal.
For Gelabale, 29, it is a long time coming. "I was looking for it for five years," he said. "When I was in France, I was thinking to come back. I was in Russia thinking about it. I was in Spain thinking about it. Now I'm here. I want to enjoy it."
He has been all those places since his two-season stint in the NBA with Seattle ended in March 2008. He returned at the end of the following season for a short stint in the Development League and was in the Los Angeles Lakers camp in the fall of 2009 before being cut. Since then he has played in France, Belgium and Russia.
He started this season playing in Croatia before moving to Valencia of the ACB league, which Wolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn considers the second-best pro league in the world. Gelabale averaged 12.8 points on 60.6 percent shooting in Croatia, 10.8 points on 51.6 shooting wth Valencia. Gelabale also averaged 7.8 points while starting six games for the French Olympic team in London.
But getting back to the NBA was always a priority. In December, his agent sent out e-mails to all 30 NBA teams expressing that desire.
The Wolves researched him in some depth. Kahn watched him play in the Olympics. The team also reached out to French-born players Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, getting glowing reviews.
His strengths? Gelabale can defend at both the shooting guard and small forward positions. Wolves guard Luke Ridnour, who played with Gelabale in Seattle, remembers an athletic player who defended well and was good at cutting to the basket. "I think people will like watching him play," Ridnour said.
Clippers forward Ronny Turiaf, in town with his team Thursday, gushed about the player Gelabale had become.
"He can play defense, but he's not just a defender," Turiaf said. "He's someone who can slash to the basket, who can shoot threes very well. And he will do all the intangibles.''
That is what the Wolves are looking for, especially in the short term, with long-term injuries to Kevin Love, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee. Saturday, they also were without center Nikola Pekovic (bruised quad) and guard Alexey Shved (ankle).A familiar face
Johnson, meanwhile, is a fairly familiar face, considering he spent training camp with the Wolves before being cut Oct. 27. Johnson, 27, the Development League's 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, had been playing for the league's Santa Cruz, Calif., franchise, averaging 10.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
"It's great to see familiar faces and a familiar system," Johnson said. "[I'll do] whatever I need to do to support the team as long as I'm here."Out of sight
Houston coach Kevin McHale said he hasn't spoken with Royce White in a month. White, the 16th overall pick in the June draft, hasn't been with the Rockets all season and is suspended with the two sides disagreeing on how to deal with White's anxiety disorder and mental health.
"I don't spend too much time on the Royce thing," McHale said.